Local councils showed 'weaknesses' in implementing planning law

 

MINISTER OF State with responsibility for planning Jan O’Sullivan yesterday published a review report which examined complaints into seven local authorities.

Ms O’Sullivan said the review found no evidence of criminality or corruption but had found weaknesses in the implementation of planning law and poor administration. The main findings were as follows:

Dublin City Council

Complaint: The complaint by An Taisce concerned decisions to grant planning permission to substantial developments that were subsequently overturned by An Bord Pleanála on appeal.

Outcome: The Department of the Environment said deficiencies – such as a lack of clarity around height policy, as well as a failure to maintain pre-planning consultation records – had been addressed. There was no evidence to support allegations by An Taisce that officials had improperly encouraged applications which breached development plans, or that a number of senior officials were not fit and competent to hold their positions.

Cork City Council

Complaint: There was concern that details relating to pre-planning meetings between developers and local authority officials were recorded on files only after a planning decision was made, in breach of planning law.

Outcome: The department identified a problem relating to differing interpretation of the planning legislation. The Ombudsman investigated the case and the council has since put in place procedures that ensure these details are available prior to a decision being made.

Carlow County Council

Complaint: This, described as the most “serious case under review”, related to irregular practices and administrative deficiencies in the local authority.

Outcome: Prior to the review, the local authority’s county manager appointed John Quinlivan – former Carlow town clerk and Louth county manager – to review corporate governance structures in Carlow County Council.

This delivered adverse findings and made a large number of recommendations to improve the planning process. The review fully accepted Mr Quinlivan’s findings and found that irregular practices were being addressed, though not all 120 recommendations had been delivered.

Meath County Council

Complaint: There were allegations that the county council had encouraged landowners and a developer to draw up a local area plan.

The complainant alleged that the Meath County Council had created an expectation that the draft plan – which included rezoning – would be adopted.

Outcome: The local authority acted properly in this case and did not adopt a draft development plan, as sought by landowners.

The council was concerned about an over-concentration of houses in a draft development plan and communicated this regularly to the landowners. New draft guidelines on local area plans mean these plans will be community- rather than developer-led.

Galway County Council

Complaint: A complainant alleged the local authority was breaching planning laws and guidelines by granting planning permission for 25 applications between 2007 and 2009, the bulk of which were later overturned by An Bord Pleanála.

Outcome: During this period the local authority dealt with 11,000 applications. Of these, 450 were appealed to An Bord Pleanála. This is an appeal rate of 4 per cent, half the national rate. As result, the department said it did not support the complainant’s assertions.

Cork County Council

Complaint: There were allegations that planning legislation was being subverted and that elements of decision-making were deliberately hidden through the involvement of a liaison officer.

Outcome: The review found that the role of a liaison officer is to examine “socio-economic” aspects of applications, within the framework of existing planning policy.

The officer’s role is to inform and report to the decision-maker, with whom sole responsibility remains. There is no policy difficulty with the role of this officer, according to the department. In this case, the official’s reports were made available for public inspection with the planning file.

Donegal County Council

Complaint: This complaint related to procedures followed by council officials in the planning department.

Outcome: The complainant was employed by the council for more than 20 years, until a decision was taken to remove him in 1999. As part of an out-of-court agreement, the official resigned and agreed to cease making allegations against council officials.

However, the complainant continued to do so. On foot of published allegations, the manager was awarded damages in a libel action against a local newspaper. It appears the allegations are “contrived and manufactured to discredit” officials at the planning department.